The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Settlement arguments offered

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 7/27/2002

Lawyers for 86 victims allegedly abused by a priest knew that the settlement agreement they had negotiated with the Archdiocese of Boston was risky because the church had not yet come up with the money, archdiocese lawyers are arguing on the eve of a mini-trial to determine whether the agreement still stands.

In court papers filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, they describe the negotiated agreement as the first step toward a final settlement, which would become official once the money was secured and everyone had signed it.

But lawyers for the alleged victims of former priest and convicted molester John J. Geoghan are accusing the archdiocese of fraud, saying the archdiocese publicly embraced the agreement and then abandoned it.

Offering a glimpse into the proceeding that begins Wednesday, lawyers on both sides yesterday submitted witness lists and summaries of their arguments to Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney. She will decide whether the $15 million to $30 million agreement is a binding contract.

Sweeney has hinted that she thought a settlement had been reached. And she has said the archdiocese cannot get out of the settlement agreement by invoking the vote not to fund it by Cardinal Bernard F. Law's handpicked finance council.

But the archdiocese's lawyers argued that only after the funding was arranged would Law and the other defendants sign the agreement and make it final.

''Cardinal Law was unable to secure the necessary approval for the [archdiocese] to fund the proposed settlement,'' the lawyers wrote. ''As a result, the majority of the defendants, none of whom had the financial wherewithal to fund even the smallest fraction of the amounts negotiated, did not sign.''

Even if Sweeney finds the agreement is binding, they say, its wording offers a way for the archdiocese to get out. If the archdiocese did not put money into an escrow fund to pay for the settlement, they say, the agreement says the settlements would collapse and the cases would return to court.

The lawyers also argue they did not have the final authority to settle the case on behalf of Law and the other defendants.

Lawyers for the victims say that Law and other church officials announced the settlement agreement and told Sweeney they had reached an agreement.

Signing the agreement, they argue, was only creating a ''polished'' version of the contract. And by walking away from the agreement, they say, the archdiocese committed fraud.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page B6 of the Boston Globe on 7/27/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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